To close out Sexual Assault Awareness month, our YAB member Melissa shared what took place on her college campus:
This event began in Philadelphia in 1975 to remember a woman who had been killed while walking alone one night. It is an opportunity not only to raise awareness about sexual assault, but it also an opportunity to allow women to reclaim public spaces because some women feel like they must fear being in public spaces alone, particularly at night. This fear of sexual assault doesn’t allow equal and safe access for women to public spaces.
On April 12, 2012, my university (the University of North Carolina at Charlotte) held our own Take Back the Night Event. This event began with a speech from the Assistant Vice Chancellor welcoming us to the event as well as a speech from Women’s Programs who put on this event to welcome us and give us some statistics about how many people are truly affected by sexual assault. Did you know that every two minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted (RAINN)?
A woman who worked at the counseling center spoke about how it was never the victim’s fault. A spokesperson from United Family Services also spoke about the services they offer in our community for survivors. A campus police officer spoke about the lack of reporting and about how campus police wants to reach out to survivors to report.
Then a really amazing part of the program took place — the men’s pledge. A criminal justice professor who teaches the domestic violence class led this pledge. He called all of the men who were attending the event up to the front and had them recite a pledge stating that they would never commit, condone, or remain silent about men’s violence against women.
This was really powerful and reminded us that this is more than just a women’s issue.
The Interpersonal Violence Prevention and Services Coordinator from Wellness Promotion recited the following statement as candles were lit: “We light candles in memory of the survivors and victims of Sexual Assault.”
The final speaker was a survivor who told her story about how she was sexually assaulted by someone she was dating. She started by saying that 46 days ago she was sexually assaulted. She spoke so powerfully about wanting to be a survivor not a victim. She spoke about healing through telling her story. She even shared a poem that she felt exemplified her feelings and told us that the healing process was not linear, but rather a spectrum.
It was so powerful and it had such an impact on me and on the audience. At the end, we marched to the Garden of Hope, which is dedicated to the remembrance of survivors and victims of sexual assault. It was so emotional marching with all of those people and having our candles glow in the setting sun.
While I was there, someone interviewed me about the event since I had helped in organizing some of it. He asked me a question that really struck me. He asked me what I wanted people to get out of this event. I told him that I wanted people to become aware of this pressing issue and to feel moved to make a difference, whether small and within their own lives or bigger, to affect the society or community as whole.
That is why I decided to share this beyond just my own university. Though I know there are Take Back The Night events elsewhere, I want more people to become aware of this issue and feel the need, even a pressure, to make a change in an issue that affects so many people.